Washington, DC - Today, at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a spokesperson for Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) provided a statement arguing that proposed reductions for Summer Flounder quotas would harm many coastal communities including those along the Jersey Shore that rely on the recreational and commercial fishing industries. The Commission, despite opposition by New Jersey representatives, elected to finalize regulations that will result in a 34% cut in summer flounder quotas for the state. The bag limit will decrease to 3 fish, and the minimum size will increase one inch to 19 inches on the New Jersey coast and 18 inches in Delaware Bay.
'These cuts are a body blow to the recreational fishing industry in New Jersey,' said Pallone. 'The recreational fishing industry contributes over $1 billion to our state's economy and directly supports 20,000 jobs. The cuts for New Jersey are greater than what NOAA had required for the region, and too many anglers and their families are going to suffer because of them. I vehemently oppose the Commission's decision and will fight to ensure that these onerous cuts do not go into effect.'
Last month, Pallone and a bipartisan group from the New Jersey Congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker asking her to prevent rulemaking that would reduce the summer flounder quotas for recreational and commercial fishing from going into effect.
The letter asks the Secretary to direct NOAA Fisheries to reexamine its methodologies and conduct a new benchmark summer flounder assessment before making any decision to reduce summer flounder quotas. Under the rule, the summer flounder Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) would be reduced 29% in 2017 and 16% in 2018. The recreational and commercial limits would both be reduced by approximately 30% in 2017 and 16% in 2018. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker and Congressmen Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02) and Tom MacArthur (NJ-03), joined Pallone in the letter.
Pallone has long been a supporter of fisheries and the economies of coastal communities. Recently Pallone appeared before the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to reiterate his opposition to NOAA's quota reductions because of the harm they would cause New Jersey coastal communities. Pallone and Senator Booker sent a letter to NOAA Fisheries about its proposal to reduce the ABC recreational and commercial quotas for summer flounder in 2017 and 2018. The New Jersey lawmakers requested that NOAA Fisheries postpone any decision on reducing summer flounder quotas until it conducts a new benchmark summer flounder assessment.
His statement before the council can be found below:
Statement of Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
February 2, 2017
I want to thank Chairman Grout, Vice Chairman Gilmore, and all the members and staff of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for allowing me to make a statement about the summer flounder quotas for 2017 and 2018, and for the work you do to serve fishermen and coastal communities. While I am unable to make this statement in person, please be assured that this issue is a priority for me.
I also want to acknowledge the New Jersey members of the Commission, and I want to thank New Jersey DEP Commissioner Martin, who is here today, for his efforts to protect New Jersey fishermen from these onerous cuts.
On December 21, NOAA announced finalized regulations to reduce the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC), recreational, and commercial quotas for summer flounder in 2017 and 2018.
These reductions are severe; the summer flounder ABC would be reduced 29% in 2017 and a 16% in 2018. The recreational and commercial limits would both be reduced by approximately 30% in 2017 and 16% in 2018.
There is no doubt that these reductions will have a significant negative impact on the state of New Jersey, where the recreational and commercial fishing industries generate about $2.5 billion annually and represent more than 20,000 jobs. Fishermen and their families will not be the only ones who suffer if these dramatic cuts are implemented. The tourism and boating industries along the Shore will lose business as well.
I represent the New Jersey 6th Congressional District, and there are many coastal communities in my district which will be harmed if these regulations go into effect. That is why I have opposed these cuts ever since NOAA proposed them last year; working with my New Jersey Congressional colleagues, calling out NOAA, testifying before the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and offering a statement to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, all to prevent these cuts from going into effect before we know whether they are actually necessary at all.
All of us want a healthy fluke population. Having a sustainable population benefits both our economy and our environment. However, members of the fishing industry have real concerns about the science and methodologies used to justify these draconian cuts.
Last month, I led a number of my Congressional colleagues in sending a letter to former-Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, calling on her to use emergency powers to prevent these damaging regulations from going into effect and direct NOAA to reexamine its methodologies and conduct a new benchmark summer flounder assessment before making a decision to reduce summer flounder quotas. There are many compelling reasons to question the decision to cut summer flounder quotas, but the underlying issue is that we need to comprehensively change both how and how often we conduct stock assessments.
In the letter, we pointed out just one example of these questionable methods.
The Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) estimated that Connecticut and New York recreational fishermen greatly exceeded limits on summer flounder in 2016. A major reason for this supposed overfishing was an estimated increase in fishing trips in July and August 2016. However, in order for MRIP's numbers to add up, there would have needed to be a 68% increase in fishing trips for Connecticut in those months, and a 35% increase for New York. These supposed increases are dubious. According Jersey Coast Anglers Association, from 2007 to 2014 there was a drop of 8 million fishing trips from New York to North Carolina.
Another flaw in the way NOAA currently does business is its reliance on annually estimating the number of flounder out in the sea, as opposed to relying on regularly updated scientific statistics and surveys. New Jersey DEP Commissioner Martin put it well last week when he described the inherent weakness of relying on this method, which is essentially a guess about stock population. NOAA should instead use models that cover multiple years, which will bring certainty to the industry and better allow us to measure which conservation methods work and which do not.
Another issue I have heard from my constituents is the size limit of 19 inches for summer flounder. Most summer flounder larger than 18 inches in length are female. If we are serious about growing the summer flounder stock, we should not be instituting polices that disproportionately remove females from the population.
Additionally, this policy is going to result in more fish, smaller than 19 inches, being thrown back into the ocean after being caught. As any fisherman can tell you, many of these fish do not survive being caught and thrown back in. Again, if we are serious about increasing the population of summer flounder, why are we putting regulations in place that will result in more fish being killed?
These are just a few examples of why so many fishermen are frustrated and lack confidence in the data that NOAA uses to guide quota reductions. Anglers have sacrificed year after year, and have yet to see real benefits for their sacrifices.
New Jersey has made its view on these reductions clear. I and other members of the Congressional delegation, the Governor, and Commissioner Martin, have made our voices heard. The state Assembly also passed a resolution calling for status quo to be maintained until a new assessment can be conducted.
In short, these cuts are unjust, based on questionable science, and NOAA should reexamine how it conducts these stock assessments before making decisions that threaten the livelihoods of so many New Jersey anglers and communities.
The Commission should act on this and take any and all steps that it can to protect recreational and commercial fishermen, especially to minimize the negative impacts of quota cuts.